‘Being a consultant with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for greater inclusion of gender minorities has been a journey for me. Not just a personal journey of moving cities or learning new things each day, but a journey towards inclusion, a journey from social exclusion to the mainstream, and most importantly a journey from being a transgender person to being just a human being.’
Today I sat and listened to members of transgender communities from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces raise their issues. These were transgender persons from the grassroots, like me, who raised very basic issues such as recognition of their identity, access to opportunities, healthcare, psycho-social support, gainful employment, engagement opportunities, justice, and most importantly, the need to promote respect and freedom.
Arzoo, a transgender person from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, despite facing violence was joining forces with other transgender persons so that she could play an active role in improving the quality of life for fellow transgender persons. Aarzoo is a guru (teacher) for numerous transgenders and is widely respected for her contribution to transgenders’ activism. The first transgender lawyer in Pakistan, Nisha Rao shared her struggle of paying her way through law school by begging on the streets dressed as a male. She came out with her identity in law school and struggled throughout her years there to fit in. She remained resolute and is now giving back to the community by sensitizing the local population, government officials and students in colleges and universities to accept transgender persons as part of the society.
Listening to my peers, I couldn’t help but feel proud of how far I have come, how I have learnt and how I have contributed to promote inclusion. ‘I was very proud, as this was an event which I had organized with the support of my colleagues….who would have known that I could come such a long way!’.
All my peers were encouraged by UNDP’s recruitment of a transgender person – and they perceived it as a sign of recognition and acceptance. This was an action that went beyond just promises and instead produced actual results!
My story is that of a typical transgender person: coming from a rural area in Pakistan in Punjab with limited opportunities, being rejected by my family, forced to make various compromises in order just to survive, living with limited resources, facing abuse, violence and never ending discrimination – the kind which is so consistent that being respected makes you feel awkward – in short, feeling like a second grade citizen with no savior in sight. I could never have thought I could be a part of something bigger than just trying to survive on a daily basis – let alone leading change in a reputed organization like the United Nations.